A/N:Wow! We're finally here. I'm . . . stunned, ecstatic, nostalgic, excited.
All I can say is oodles of thanks to Payton79 for her watchful eyes and to IpsitaC77 for her loving guidance.
I'm also really grateful to frostedglaze for her idea on how to bring these characters full circle once again.
A final note of thanks goes to PFK_FF, who posts my updates on Twitter and makes me feel like I've 'arrived.' ;) Follow her for loads of fic updates!
For the last time in this story, I wish you happy reading!
EPILOGUE - MOMENTS AND MEANING
Four letters, one syllable.
A simple word, quite inadequate to symbolize the all-encompassing emotion it described.
I'd been fortunate enough to know true love in the twenty seven years of my life.
It was in the pride glowing in my father's eyes whenever I brought home a gold star on school assignments.
It was in the chime of my mother's voice as she woke me each morning, her smile brightening my day more than the sun ever could.
It was even in the fights I had with my brother, only to hug him tight in apology when we both calmed down enough to see the errors of our overreacting ways.
And today . . . Today, I found it in spades all around me.
In the gentle embrace of my best friend snuggling with her boyfriend, sharing covert whispers and loving caresses when they thought no one was looking.
In the playful words and smirks being swapped between my brother and his wife as she swatted his greedy hands away from her freshly baked cookies.
In the tender gaze of my grandmother as she watched their exchange and shook her head adoringly.
But mostly, I found it in the familiar blue-grey swirls of two large, curious eyes fixed on my face.
I smiled, bringing my finger up to stroke her velvety cheek, and was gifted with her version of a laugh. Actually, it was more of a gurgle, but I chose to interpret it as I liked until she learned to express herself better. Swaying my arms, I rocked her little body gently, feeling the soft, warm weight of her and marveling as I had since the day she had arrived into our lives almost six months ago.
A pair of strong arms encircled my waist, drawing me close, and I adjusted the position of the little girl I held as he placed his chin on my shoulder.
In the gentle firmness of his touch and the whisper of his breath fanning over my skin, I found the love I'd waited for all my life, and yet, had never known how much I'd needed it . . . needed him.
Turning my head, I met his waiting lips with mine, both of us sighing contentedly into the kiss. A fussy little whine arose from the baby in my arms, so I quickly turned my attention back to her, soothing her with a hum and snuggling her closer to my chest.
I felt Edward's lips press against my hair and leaned into him, my thoughts drifting to the day I'd first expressed the depth of my feelings for him. I didn't know when it was, couldn't pinpoint the exact moment or even the day that marked a shift in my emotions.
It was just another evening we were going to spend together, no different than usual. I'd returned home after a chaotic day at work to find Edward already there. Having finished his shift early, he had decided to surprise me with take-out from my favorite Mexican restaurant. We'd cuddled on the couch after stuffing our stomachs, settling into our usual position with my head resting against his arm and my legs folded across his lap.
Three months had passed since Aro's death sentence had been carried out, and we were finally able to watch the news without finding our faces plastered in every prime time program. Edward had switched to the channel we both preferred before stretching his arm to grab the bowl of ice-cream sundae we were going to share. I had quickly thrown it together, owing to my relentless craving for something sweet after the delicious dinner.
Edward had held the spoon, knowingly feeding me my share of chocolate ice-cream, and eating eager mouthfuls of the butterscotch scoop I'd put in just for him. When he came across a chocolate chip, he'd held it to my lips. His eyes were gentle and his smile loving as he'd watched me accept the offering. Leaning in, he'd planted a soft kiss on my forehead, the warmth of his touch searing my skin, lingering even moments after he'd pulled away.
And that was when I'd felt it.
It was in his steadfast support as he stood by my side in the quest to punish my mother's killer.
It was in the comfort of his palm against mine as I listened to the CD and relived the worst day of my life.
It was in his silent strength and unending encouragement as I faced Aro and his lawyer in court.
When we'd finally tested the waters of the feelings we both shared, it was in the reverent gaze, the tender embraces, and the passionate kisses that set my body and my soul ablaze.
That evening, we were doing nothing but simply being. Yet, it was in the shimmer in his eyes as they peered at me like I was the answer to all the world's unanswered questions . . . like I was the balm that soothed his soul . . . like I was simply the most precious thing in his life.
And it was also in the pit of my stomach, rising to fill my chest with a rush of exhilaration and anticipation, until the words had bubbled up to my lips.
"I love you," I'd blurted without second thought, simply unable to help myself.
My voice had been steady and clear, and I'd known there was no way that he hadn't heard me. Before I could even begin to panic, Edward's wide-eyed gaze had pierced into mine. Hardly two seconds had passed – though they felt like eons – when his face had broken out into a beaming smile that chased every last bit of my doubts away.
"I love you, too," he had promised. The husky tenor of his voice in that moment was something I knew I'd remember for the rest of my life.
The remnants of our dessert now long forgotten, our lips had met in a kiss that sent searing tingles along my nerves and held the promise of a lot more. As we'd undressed each other with unhurried, affectionate strokes, it was as if we were seeing each other, truly feeling each other for the first time. With the last bit of our emotions revealed, it felt as though we were truly baring our souls to each other. That evening, we hadn't even made it to the bed, surrendering to our intense desire for each other right there on the couch, yet the intimacy between us had transcended to a whole new level.
Edward's lips grazing the side of my neck pulled me back from my musings.
"Where'd you go, Princess?" he whispered against my skin.
I giggled as he reached the ticklish spot right behind my ear. "Nowhere," I replied, turning in his arms. "I'm right here."
"Hmm," he mumbled, looking at me in a way that told me that he knew I wasn't being entirely truthful, probably even knowing exactly where my mind had gone.
His eyes flickered to the baby in my arms, and he threw me a meaningful look.
Later, he mouthed, winking in a way that never failed to make me go weak in the knees.
And he didn't even know what I'd planned for us tonight. I bit my lip to suppress a smirk.
Rosalie walked over to me, finally having managed to pry Emmett away from the hot cookies. She held out her hands, and I deftly handed her daughter over to her. I watched with a smile as Rose's face broke out into the grin she reserved solely for her girl. It spoke of pure devotion, the kind that no-one but a mother and her child had the privilege of sharing.
"Dinner's ready," Rose announced, bouncing her daughter in her arms and leading us over to the dining table.
Alice and Jasper finally broke out of their cozy, little bubble and stood from the couch, though their hands remained interlinked as they walked over to take their seats. In the past, I probably would've rolled my eyes at the unadulterated, sometimes irritating mushiness in every bit of their interaction, but I supposed I couldn't fault them for being in an amorous mood just a few days after having moved in together.
To say that the phone call I received from Alice to tell me about their decision had been a shock would've been an understatement. As soon as I'd made sense of her words, I'd jumped right out of bed, jutting an errant elbow at Edward's chest in my haste, muttering apologies as I rushed out the door to meet her. All my life, I'd seen Alice be completely comfortable only in presence of our family. Her parents' poor excuse of an upbringing had left her very cautious about letting people in and showing them her true self. With Jasper, however, despite having been in a relationship for mere months, Alice had known he was the one for her. She had no qualms about accepting his proposal of finding a place where they could start the rest of their lives together.
I couldn't deny that, in the beginning, I'd been wary. It was probably a little hypocritical, given that Edward and I hadn't been together for much longer before taking the plunge of buying a house together.
But logic hadn't mattered to me in that moment. Ever since Mom had taken Alice under her wings, she and I had been there for each other through thick and thin. There was nothing that could make me stop worrying about the girl who had held my hand and kept me afloat during the darkest days of my life. I couldn't bear the thought of someone hurting her. She had suffered a lot and that, too, because of her parents – the people who were supposed to love her unconditionally. However, watching the adoration and excitement in Jasper's gaze as they signed their names on the lease documents eased some of my anxiety. My smile was honest and bright as I congratulated them both.
Looking at Jasper now, scraping the beans he knew Alice hated from her plate into his own and then pouring her a bit more of her favorite wine, I had no doubt that the two of them were quite perfect for each other.
Beside me, Edward chatted with Emmett as he ate. I smiled as I heard their endless arguments about sports, cutting a piece of my grilled chicken before popping it into my mouth.
Turning my gaze to the other side, I found Didyme's eyes trained on the cheerful little occupant of her lap. Over the past several months, the strain of Aro's sentencing had taken a toll on Didyme's health. While she managed to remain strong throughout the trial, the thought of one's son being executed couldn't have been easy to bear for anyone. There were a few weeks when she withdrew from everyone around her, refusing to eat or take her medicines, losing herself in the misery that engulfed the darkest recesses of her mind. Whenever I'd sat with her, she had held my hand tight in hers, but otherwise remained quiet and brooding.
It was the birth of Rose's and Em's little one that had brought her back to life. The moment she had held her great-granddaughter, the grief that'd clouded her features for weeks had disappeared, hope and joy inching their way onto her countenance. When Emmett had told her what name Rose had picked out, Didyme's eyes had welled up with tears that rolled down her withered cheeks and past the corners of her mouth, which were stretched up in a smile.
Renee Katherine Swan
Little Renee had become the apple of my grandmother's eye, and just the sight of her was enough to breathe new life into Didyme's soul. As I watched, Renee dropped the plastic spoon she was playing with, crying out imperiously when it fell to the floor. Rosalie started to stand, but Didyme motioned for her to continue with her meal. She grabbed the discarded spoon and set it aside. Given her propensity to drop one here and there, Renee's favorite set of little spoons always lay on every table in the house. The doting great-grandmother stretched her free arm carefully to grab a clean one and elicited a happy little squeak from Renee as she handed it over. The sound brought an instant light of joy to Didyme's eyes, and my chest warmed with contentment.
Each time I watched happiness glow in my grandmother's face, I couldn't help but think of Mom, wondering if she was watching over us with a smile and if she was happy about Didyme's presence in our life. In my heart, I believed that the answer to both those questions was a firm yes.
The rest of the meal was a raucous affair, as usual. This was something we tried to do every other weekend – family and friends getting together for an early dinner, sharing silly anecdotes, chatting about weather and sports, and just enjoying the satisfaction of being together. Esme and Carlisle joined us on some occasions, too, but this week, they had headed over to San Francisco. Carlisle had a conference to attend, and Esme had decided to mix a little pleasure with the business.
Once dessert was done, I sneaked a peek at my phone to check the time. It was just past seven. Judging by the directions Emmett had given me, it wouldn't take much more than a couple of hours to reach our destination, so we were good in that regard.
I headed into the kitchen and moments later, returned with another glass of wine for Edward as he had requested. He grinned and gave me a kiss in thanks before taking a big gulp. I stifled a smile and settled beside Alice, joining the conversation she was having with Jasper and Rose about the upcoming movie releases.
A few minutes later, I felt Edward's hand tap my shoulder. His eyes were a tad droopy and his voice low as he asked me if I was ready to go. Our intention to leave heralded the end of the party, and quick but warm goodbyes were shared as everyone decided to take their leave.
After kissing a sleepy Renee on her cheek and hugging Em and Rose, Edward and I were ready to go. Once at the car, he started to head toward the driver's side. I opened my mouth to protest, but it was unnecessary as he stopped on his own.
He turned to me, rubbing at his eyes and looking adorably confused. "I think I've had a little too much of the wine," he murmured, shaking his head as he stumbled over to the passenger seat.
"Don't worry about it," I assured him calmly. "I'll drive."
I helped him settle in, shutting the door behind him before walking over to the other side. Snapping the seatbelt in place, I pushed the key into its slot and started the car.
"Maybe I'll just take a short nap," Edward slurred, his hair growing even more disheveled than usual as his head lolled on the backrest.
I took one hand off the steering wheel to grab his. "You do that, baby."
"Hmm." He said something else, too, but it came out as garbled mush. A few seconds later, a light snore arose from Edward's chest. I stifled a giggle before pressing down on the gas pedal and zooming faster toward the destination I had in mind.
Two and a half hours later, I sat in the seat with my head in my hands.
I'd messed it up.
I resisted the urge to smack my forehead, feeling unbelievably silly.
How the hell did this not occur to me?
For all my plotting, I'd ended up ignoring a major flaw in the plan.
I looked to my side, and there he was – peaceful as ever. Maybe I'd messed up on that, too. He'd been deeply asleep for our entire journey and showed no signs of waking up even now.
What if he slept through the entire night?
My heart sank, but then another thought popped into my head.
Wait, maybe I could use that to my advantage. We could go home now, and he would never know how stupid I'd been.
I nodded to myself, happy with that course of action. Just as I straightened in my seat, ready to drive back, Edward groaned. I blew out a deep breath, thoroughly frustrated at myself, before deciding to face the music.
Here goes nothing, I thought as he slowly opened his eyes.
"Hey," I murmured quietly, not wanting to startle him.
Angling his head toward me, he blinked slowly, squinting to focus until he realized that I was there. "Princess," he whispered in a gruff voice. He cleared his throat. "What's going on?" he asked, sitting up to take notice of our surroundings.
When his eyes landed on the cabin a few feet away, his head whipped back to face me. I winced when he did, reaching up with one hand to curb the dizziness the quick action must've caused.
"What are we doing here?"
I shrugged ruefully. "You drugged me and brought me here. You're fond of surprising me with something or the other every week. I thought I'd turn the tables back on you and surprise you for a change."
I reached into the glove compartment, sheepishly pulling out a pair of fur handcuffs I'd bought specifically with this occasion in mind. I had also planned on asking Edward about the whereabouts of the ones he had used when he had held me captive at this very location.
Edward's eyes widened further, and his mouth fell open at the metal glinting in my hands.
"Fuck!" The word escaped his lips in what was obviously an involuntary exclamation. His sleepiness had been chased right away, that was for sure.
"Well, I'd say you've turned the tables quite skillfully," he murmured, raising his eyebrows as a slow smirk started to spread over his lips. "Why the long face, Princess? I love your idea."
I shrugged again, feeling even more morose. "I made the long drive yesterday to make sure everything was clean enough to stay here for the weekend. Well, for all my planning, I happened to miss one very important point. I would never have been able to carry you in there!" I threw up my hands. "Not by myself anyway. I was sitting here, sulking about that, when you were snoring away. That got me worried that maybe I'd added too much of the sedative to your drink. I'd checked and re-checked the dose a hundred times, but still, when you didn't stir at all through the bumpy ride as I drove here, I got really anxious." My words flew freely, the pitch of my voice rising steadily as I poured out my frustration. "I'd been planning this for weeks, and now, it's all moot."
"Hey," Edward interrupted loudly, capturing my hands in his. "It's all good, Bella. I'll be happy to lay down on the bed and pretend to be asleep, while you go to town with the handcuffs." He ducked his head to meet my eyes and winked in an attempt to cheer me up.
"But it's not the same," I mumbled, even though my spirits rose slightly at the image he had painted.
He hummed, thoughtful for a moment before saying, "Didn't I tell you that I wasn't the one to bring you here? Emmett brought you, and I found you asleep right there on the bed. It'll be the same now, with me on the bed and you coming in afterward."
I considered his words. "So we'll be even then?"
Squeezing my hands, he smiled. "I'd say so. There's one more thing."
"Like you said, you can't carry me in," he said, and I nodded. "So, I'm rather happy you didn't think about that earlier because the idea of you enlisting your brother's help to deposit me onto the bed where I'm going to do some highly questionable things to his sister actually freaks me out." He shuddered dramatically, and I felt my lips curl up in a smile.
"It would probably freak my brother out, too," I admitted, amused, before giving in to the chuckles that left my mouth.
Edward laughed, too. "Let's do this then."
He ended up going into the house first, and I followed slowly. The handcuffs hung from my finger, but the sight of him, spread shirtless and glorious on the bed made me ache to feel his hands on my skin. Goosebumps rose over my arms, the thought of his touch sending shivers down my spine. I tossed the handcuffs aside for the moment, quickly walking over to the bed instead. We had all night and all day tomorrow – more than enough time for that. First, I just wanted him inside me.
His eyes popped open when I straddled his lap, all pretenses falling away when I crushed my mouth to his.
Steady hands pushed clothes out of our way. Wandering fingers caressed and gripped every inch of bare skin they could reach. Heated eyes met and locked, no words needed as our bodies swayed in the desire surging hot and heavy between us. Soft lips kissed their way along warm skin until we were left panting and craving more of each other. Writhing bodies arched, trembled and rocked to a frenzied rhythm as our passion crested and swelled toward the sublime expanse of our release.
Afterward, as I lay in his arms, his fingers traced lazy patterns on my back, making me squirm and giggle against his chest.
"I love you," he whispered. His voice melded seamlessly into the quiet stillness of the night, while he pulled me closer until our legs tangled together.
"Love you, too," I replied just as softly, letting my eyes fall shut with a sigh of contentment.
In the past few months, I'd realized that how two people started off didn't matter as much as how and where they ended up. What Edward and I shared had begun on a wrong foot, but then, so had been the case with my parents. Sometimes, I let myself imagine how conflicted my father must've been – a law enforcement officer who had no choice except to break the very rules he fought to uphold in order to protect the woman he loved. But he did it. He did everything in his power and more to give her a new life.
Thinking about them had given me the hope I needed to take the steps forward with Edward, and tonight only reaffirmed what I'd already come to know.
We might've started out wrong.
But we'd ended up exactly where we were meant to be.
A/N: Disguised Intentions is up in the poll for Top Ten Fics Completed in June at www dot twifanfictionrecs dot com . If you have enjoyed this story, I'd really appreciate a vote . . . or more, if you wish ;) You can vote once a day until the end of July.
Dear readers, I simply cannot give enough thanks to you for sticking with me. This story had its ups and downs, but it was the way I wanted to write it. Your reception has turned out to be much, much better than I ever dared to imagine. Your comments have made my day countless times throughout this ride.
I have more stories to tell. If you'd be willing to join me in the future, don't forget to keep me on author alert. I hope to be back with a new journey for us to undertake in a few months.
Until then, keep safe, keep happy.